Matthew Coorey played a big part in the success of 2020 National Music Camp. He talked to Words About Music participant Nicky Gluch about the role of the conductor.
Matthew Coorey grew up in Sydney in a family of music lovers. His father was a GP, and Coorey recalls doing rounds with him on a Saturday morning, tapes of classical music playing in the car. The tape of Mahler 2 was his particular favourite, though Coorey confesses it took him a while to learn to appreciate vocal classical music; he played the first three movements on loop before braving, and coming to love, the fourth and fifth.
It was while playing horn in the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra that Coorey decided he wanted to conduct. Returning to Sydney, Coorey started putting on concerts with his friends (who, of course, just happened to be members of professional orchestras). Initially he was self-taught, before he braved the big time and auditioned for the Tanglewood Festival. Aspen followed, before Coorey was appointed Conducting Fellow at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester.
Coorey fondly remembers his time at RNCM. The diversity of student ensembles there meant that he was exposed to a wide range of repertoire, some of which had to be conducted at very short notice. Coorey describes how this helped prepare him for the early days of his professional career. Conductors’ “first gigs” often come as the result of a more senior musician pulling out, and the ability to confidently assume the podium is crucial.
“When you don’t have time to prepare, you trust your instincts,” Coorey explains. “You remember that you’re a musician, foremost. Being the boss is just a caveat of the role.” To this end, Coorey wants to dispel the myth that all conductors are “mega-stars earning mega-bucks”. To him, the profession is a choice, like any other; no loftier than being an orchestral musician, just requiring its own set of skills. This choice, however, is only available if one has the opportunity, and this is why Coorey is a big believer in grassroots music education.
“Music education is the best thing for promoting the development of a person,” Coorey believes. “Anything that broadens your horizons is worth trying, and music opens up a whole world.” To Coorey, music education is the most wonderful form of oral tradition. His own talk is peppered with conductor anecdotes, and when asked whether he listens to recordings to prepare he says: “There’s 100 years of tradition to build on, why would I ignore that? It’s like consulting with a teacher. Every time you go to a teacher, you will learn something. They will have their own ideas, and you don’t have to agree with them but you broaden your knowledge of what’s possible.”
That, to Coorey, is what makes the profession so stimulating. It’s a constant meeting of minds and experiences, and it’s why working with a youth orchestra brings with it such rewards. There’s a freshness and an excitement which justifies why one would cross over to the “dark side that is conducting”.
More From Matthew Coorey: Watch His Conducting 101 Lesson